The Ruff Knights - 2013 WA Twitchathon summary
After two consecutive years of runner up placings to the Western Whistlers,
The Ruff Knights embarked on an ambitious plan for this years twitchathon,
with the theme for our route - "high risk, high reward", and probably
"long" should be thrown in there to.
During our planning for last years twitchathon, a crazy idea was hatched,
what if we started up north, and drove to Perth? It was too late to change
our south coast plan, but the seed of thought had been implanted in to our
head. A review of a route starting up north showed a total distance of
approx 1650 km, and it dawned on us that our 2012 route was only a couple
of hundred kilometers less. A potential species list for the route was
completed, and with 300 species on offer, the temptation was too much to
resist! We were to start in Port Hedland!
Our route was structured around five key habitat types; Coastal North-West,
Mulga, Mallee, Perth Hills and Wetlands. The variety in habitats was to
allow us the greatest chance in accumulating a large total, but the travel
time costed us birding time at each location. This is one of the great
intricacies of the twitchathon, habitats and potential species vs time
required to actually find the birds.
Bruce, Nigel and Stewart left late in the week for the drive up, completing
reconnaissance on the way up, while Nathan cashed in on frequent flyer
points and flew up to Hedland, where we would all rendezvous. Mid morning
on the Saturday, a couple of hundred kilometers out of Hedland, a call came
through from Nathan. "Whats that Nath? You're breaking up, reception is
bad, WHAT?! You've got a Gallinago species Snipe?!....." The call cut out.
We were pumped, but extremely nervous, would it hold all day so we could
get it on the twitchathon?! Our potential species list grew to 301.
The Snipe provided us with a problem, do we change our most efficient route
so that we can start on the Snipe and tick it off straight away? Or do we
stay with our most efficient route, and hope we can re-locate it quickly.
We decided on sticking with the route, and start time was quickly approaching.
Hedland is fantastic for shorebirds, and it didn't disappoint, ticking off
shorebirds around town. We missed Yellow Wagtail on the racecourse, which
was extremely frustrating considering we had
just an hour
. But we were getting great birds; Little Curlew, Brahminy Kite, eight
Terns (Common, Gull-billed, Caspian, Crested, Lesser
rested, Little, Whiskered, White-winged Black), mangrove specialists and
Time to head to the Walkabout, not for a beer
, but for the ponds behind it, to try and get back on to the Snipe.
Thankfully, Nathan had plenty of time to learn its favourite spots during
the day, so upon reaching the ponds, we were on to the Snipe straight away,
WOOHOO, how good is a lifer on a twitchathon! With that it was off to the
tip to try for the Black Falcons that had been hanging around. After
spending 10 minutes searching, with that dipping feeling coming on
, we decided to leave, which at that point two Black Falcons flew over. You
Beauty! Being at a northern latitude, sun set is notably earlier, and the
sun was well and truly set by 6:45 pm. After seeing the lovely sights of
Hedland (two water treatment ponds and the rubbish tip), it was time for
that long night drive.
The drive south was uneventful. The never ending line of road trains
heading north ensured few night birds were to be encountered. A Bush
Stone-curlew was flushed off the road, and an Owlet
heard while refuelling at a river crossing.
The absence of day-light savings appeared to become even more ludicrous,
with first light beginning to show at 4:15 am. By 5 am we were birding the
Mulga, surrounded by those familiar but confusing thornbills chirping away.
We ticked the local four off (Chestnut-rumped, Slaty-backed, Inland and
Yellow-rumped), along with other key birds such as Mulga Parrots, Western
Bowerbird and Redthroat. A bonus bird in Chiming Wedgebill was very
rewarding. Time to get back in that car and continue south, next stop was
to be Mallee.
We were concerned, conditions had been deplorable on the drive up with very
strong winds making birding extremely tough, with barely a chirp or a
squawk heard. We needed key species here we wouldn't get anywhere else. But
this stop turned out to probably be the highlight of the trip. The sun was
shining, the air was still, and the Grey-fronted Honeyeaters were calling!
We found these guys feeding in flowering eucalypts a couple of weeks prior.
The flower was now gone, but thankfully the birds were still present. Other
key species recorded included Dusky Woodswallow, Jacky Winter, Red-backed
Kingfisher, White-eared Honeyeater, Western Yellow Robin, Southern
Scrub-robin, Blue-breasted Fairy-wren, Shy Heathwren and Brown-headed
Honeyeater. A drive by Peregrine Falcon and Black-breasted Buzzard were
The long drive through the Wheatbelt followed, with Western Corella, Red-tailed
Black-Cockatoo and White-winged Triller the only new species added for a couple
of hundred kilometers. Coming down the Darling scarp, it felt good to get
back down home. But time was catching up with us, we were starting to dip
on easy birds, and an error in our schedule meant we had to sacrifice our
plan of finishing on the coast for a sea watch. We missed Western Thornbill
which we needed for the Thornbill slam
(and Slender-billed, but given the poor arid conditions, we never
considered it a possibility)
, but got other key species such as Red-eared Firetail, Red-capped Parrot,
Red-winged Fairy-wren, Western Wattlebird and Western Spinebill. Coming
down the scarp, an obliging Square-tailed Kite soared down the gully giving
great views (sorry Wes!).
Time to hit the wetlands. It felt great to get to Herdsman, and finally
tick off gimme birds such as Purple Swamphen, Blue-billed Duck etc. With
all the excitement, we almost forgot about a number of birds we hadn't yet
seen, almost overlooking Great-crested Grebe and Great Cormorant. Off to
our last stop at
ake Claremont (
Cat (or should it be Freckled Duck?) got let out of the bag
pre-twitchathon). Freckled Ducks were everywhere, and we finally got on to
an Aussie Spotted Crake after tantalizing us for several minutes, staying
deep in cover. Nearing the conclusion, a sad realization was beginning to
be felt. We were going to dip on White-faced Heron. How this was possible
is still unknown to us, perhaps the White-necked Herons have begun preying
Five o'clock ticked over, and it was done. An epic adventure had concluded,
with 188 birds seen, down on our target of 200, but we were happy!
Some concluding comments. Conditions in the arid zone are currently very
poor. We missed virtually every regular nomadic, which in the right
conditions are simple birds (Black, Pied, White-fronted Honeyeater, Crimson
Chat, Masked Woodswallow, Budgies, Cockatiel, Rufous Songlark etc). We got
some fantastic birds, but dipped on many basics. Our
of over 1800km
would take us across many European countries, potentially the longest
twitchathon route ever completed? We had an absolute blast. We all slept
very well Sunday night :)
Thanks to Graffy for a great job organising the event and to all the other
teams. We got lots of video footage through a GoPro I wore on my head, so
look out for a special Twitching Diary short documentary on our adventures
some time soon.
Best bird 1: Gallinago Snipe sp. (We are tentatively leaning towards
Best bird 2: Black Falcon
Worst dip: White-faced Heron
The Ruff Knights
WA TWITCHATHON 2013 Checklist_The Ruff Knights.pdf
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